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From steep, active volcanoes to low coral atolls, Tonga's 176 islands offer a wealth of backdrops. The "Friendly Islands" archipelago of Tonga in the South Pacific is imbued with an unspoiled beauty and laid-back vibe that travelers find alluring, whether relaxing on its white sandy beaches, snorkeling or diving in its gorgeous coral reefs, hiking through tropical rainforests or watching migratory whales return to their breeding grounds every June to November.
Tonga is divided into four main island groupings, but we'll focus on the main island, Tongatapu, protected by lagoons and limestone cliffs. It’s home to the rural capital of Nuku'alofa (population 107,000) as well as beach resorts, plantations and the Haʻamonga ʻa Maui, a monumental stone gate from the 1200s near the village of Niutōua, in Heketā.
Writes Lonely Planet:
On Tongatapu you'll find lots of interesting attractions, including ancient tombs, coastal blowholes and several beaches suitable for snorkeling. Most activities here reflect the nation's island culture, centering on diving, fishing, boat trips, kayaking and even kite surfing.
Sightseeing highlights include the Royal Palace along the waterfront in the capital of Nuku'alofa, the Mala'ekula (Royal Tombs) and the Anahulu Cave, an underground cavern of stalactites and stalagmites. If you want a quick cultural hit, watch tapa cloth being made from mulberry bark and try a drink of kava, the traditional drink, which may give you a mild buzz. Like adventure? Try a self-drive kart safari on a four-wheel ATV and explore a rainforest on remote back road trails and along oceanside clifftops.
Take advantage of a Tongan feast if you can. Tour companies and hotels organize feasts, together with traditional dancing, on several nights of the week on Tongatapu.
June to October is the peak season with stable weather, warm seas and waterside restaurants in full swing.
November to March sees Tonga's warmer, rainy season, which is summertime in the South Seas. It's optimal for water sports.
April to August (wintertime) sees cool, dry and less humid weather. You'll see plenty of yachties.
On the island of Tongatapu, cruise ships dock close to the city of Nuku'Alofa at the newly reconstructed Vuna Wharf.
Taxis are readily available. To get around the main island of Tongatapu, Teta Tours and Toni's guest house offer day tours of all the main tourist sights.
Documents: A valid passport is required for U.S. and Canadian citizens.
Language: The official languages of Tonga are Tongan and English.
Tipping: Tipping is typically not expected in Tonga. However, if you are satisfied with the service provided by a waiter, driver or guide, it doesn't hurt to leave a small tip.
Currency: The national currency is the pa'anga, or Tongan dollar.
Safety: Tonga has a low crime rate but do take the usual precautions. Petty crime such as property theft does occur.
Have you visited Tonga? What was the highlight for you? Have any tips for newcomers? Would love to see your photos and hear about your experience.
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